To The Big House

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Nearly a year had passed since we last visited Jane Austen’s house, a year in which we had failed to return with our tickets that lasted a year; I hoped she wouldn’t be offended. As I forgot to actually bring the tickets, at least she would know our visit was genuine.

The weather was greyer and mistier than last time, but at least it wasn’t raining. With two nights away we had all day and this time we were determined to see The Big House properly.

Because Jane’s parents were fortuitous in giving away one of their sons to childless rich relatives ( and what parent wouldn’t be tempted, I wonder if they chose the naughtiest? ) it came about that Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight inherited Chawton House and was able to provide Jane, sister Cassandra, their friend and their widowed mother a home on the estate for the rest of their lives. Cassandra and the friend ran the household so Jane could concentrate on her writing and this was the happiest and most productive period of her life, sadly cut short by her early death.

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We strolled around the village first on this damp morning, being nosey of course and admiring the lovely cottages brightened with spring flowers. At the house there were few visitors yet and I was fascinated with a very jolly, well spoken family; granddad with three generations of women who all seemed to have impossibly long slender legs. You may recall last year we met Jeremy Knight, third great grandson of Edward who now volunteers as a guide at Jane’s. My ears pricked when I heard the grandmother of the family ask another volunteer ‘Is Jeremy in?’ He’s just gone for coffee. ‘I’m his first cousin.’ Oh, did you want to go in the office for coffee? ‘ What, with the staff? I haven’t seen him for years.’

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When we did arrive at Chawton House and went first to the kitchen where they serve light refreshments, Jeremy’s relatives were there having coffee, I wonder if they did meet up with him that day?

You can walk up to the house as Jane would have done. You ring the doorbell and get a friendly welcome. We bought tickets that will last a year. The house is a study centre for women’s literature and you can also see the books Jane herself enjoyed reading or did not enjoy…

I was intrigued to dip into a copy of this book; certainly heavy going, but now I understand this scene…

‘Sermons to Young Women in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Mr Collins chooses Sermons to Young Women to read aloud to the Bennet sisters on the first evening that he spends with the family (I. 14). This is an important clue to Mr Collins’s character, since by the time Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, Fordyce’s views were outdated and restrictive. Lydia Bennet is particularly unimpressed by Mr Collins’s choice of reading material: ‘Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him …’.’

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/sermons-to-young-women

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There is plenty to enjoy looking round the house even if you don’t pause to read. Imagine the family in the dining room, or gazing out at the views. Take time to wander the gardens as well. The primroses were out and we walked through ‘the wilderness’ and to the church close by where the family worshipped and Cassandra and her mother are buried. Jane  Austen’s last few weeks were spent in Winchester, where her family hoped  for a cure. She is buried there.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chawton_House

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See more pictures at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog/

 

 

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Fifty Shades of Away Grey

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Why would you paint a hotel battleship grey, inside and out; isn’t the idea to attract guests and customers not make them feel as if they are in prison? Perhaps the owners of The Swan, Alton, Hampshire got a job lot of grey paint.

Our two nights away in Hampshire started off in sunshine. Part of the plan ( the main part ) was to use up our tickets for Jane Austen’s house, the tickets lasted a year and we had only a few days left. If you ever buy tickets for any place and are delighted you have a whole year to revisit, it is guaranteed you will never return; even if you live in the same country, even if you have not been kidnapped for a year or overcome with disasters, you will not return. As the sunshine disappeared and the day became overcast and grey Cyberspouse asked if I had remembered the tickets. I hadn’t. Never mind, we would buy new tickets and make a contribution to a national and literary treasure.

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By the time we reached Alton the sky was heavy and grey and matched the hotel, this was our first view from the car park. Inside, all the decor was shades of grey, brightened only by a gloomy tartan carpet and pictures and lights. However, the staff were friendly and cheerful.

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Our room had a little sitting room with a small television screen and a tiny bedroom with a large TV screen. We were just in time to watch the Oxford Cambridge boat race, but the big screen would not work, lucky we had two TVs. This little sitting room could have been cosy, less like a prison cell,  in another colour scheme with better views,

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On the way out to explore we reported the broken television. When we returned they were just about to fix it; the second chap seemed to know what he was doing and after ripping it off the wall and repeated trips back and forth it was fixed.

When we went down for dinner the TV fixer showed us to our table. In fact he was on duty the whole time we were there, at the desk and everywhere and checked us out when we left.

Breakfast was okay, with orders freshly cooked, but an uninspiring breakfast bar with flasks for tea and coffee. On the second morning I asked if I could have a tea pot and that is what I got, no cup, no milk no extra hot water, back to the breakfast bar for that.

Jane Austen perhaps visited The Swan

..First mentioned in a rental document in 1499, the Swan hotel is an iconic building, set in the old market town of Alton. A tavern and hostelry, it was listed in 1674 as having 18 chambers, a parlour, kitchen, brewhouse, malthouse, old kitchen, and wine and beer cellars. It was further developed in 1777 to become the coaching inn you see today. The Swan would have been well known to famous local residents; author Jane Austen and naturalist Gilbert White. 

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Yes we did get to Chawton to visit Jane again and now we have a year’s tickets for her cottage and The Big House. The weather remained unremittingly grey for our stay, but we enjoyed our visit which you can read about next week. In the meantime here are some mellow and misty pictures of Chawton at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog

Read about last year’s visit here.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/04/18/visiting-jane/

What is the worst colour hotel you have been to? We once stayed at an Edinburgh hotel which was literally all tartan, we were definitely plaid out by the end of our visit. Candy pink would be too sickly, what colour would you paint a hotel?

 

Where Are We?

Are you sure you know where you are? I could say I live in Wessex, but Wessex has not existed for a thousand years. It was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until England was unified by Æthelstan in the early 10th century. But Wessex must exist because Thomas Hardy set his novels there… No, he used it as the name of the county in which his stories are set; corresponding approximately to Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire.

But Wessex must exist because there is an Earl of Wessex.  Don’t worry if you get confused with all the titles the Queen has bestowed on her children and grandchildren, most of us do. In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest son, Prince Edward, married Sophie Rhys-Jones. By tradition the monarch’s son receives a title upon marriage. Prince Edward became the first British prince in centuries to be created an earl, rather than a duke. His wife Sophie became The Countess of Wessex.

Many organisations, including the army, that cover the area of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire use the name Wessex .

The ITV television series Broadchurch takes place in the Wessex area, primarily the county of Dorset. It features government agencies such as Wessex Police and Wessex Crown Court, and several characters are seen attending South Wessex Secondary School.

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I live in Bournemouth which is in Dorset… or is it?  Before it was founded in 1810 by Lewis Tregonwell, the area was a deserted heathland occasionally visited by fishermen and smugglers. Historically part of Hampshire, it joined Dorset with the reorganisation of local government in 1974, but it has always seemed to me to have little in common with real rural Dorset. Since 1997 the town has been administered by Bournemouth Borough Council. But wait, more changes are afoot Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council will be the unitary local authority for the district of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole that is to come into being on 1 April 2019. The three towns already form the South East Dorset urban connurbation. What will it mean for the locals? Most of us are expecting to pay more in rates and have more services cut. Bournemouth is a new town set between two historic towns with plenty of pirates. Poole has the second largest natural harbour in the world, Sydney, Australia has the largest. Our sea is Pool Bay. Christchurch lies round the corner separated by Hengistbury Head; in Bronze Age Britain this was an important seaport, there was a settlement here in the Iron Age. I wonder how they viewed their identity?

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But let’s zoom in. I live in Southbourne, the creation of Doctor Thomas Armetriding Compton, who set up general practice in Bournemouth in 1866 and could see the area’s potential as a health resort. The clifftop land here had been part of Tuckton Farm, purchased by Compton in 1871 and later developed by the Southbourne-on-Sea Freehold Land Company.

Local businesses consider they are in Southbourne-on-Sea, Southbourne Grove, thriving with interesting shops and eateries, has been nicknamed the Sobo Mile.

You can see plenty of my local area at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-two-coastal-views/

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Now let us zoom out. I have never considered I come from anywhere in particular, having lived in lots of places. I was born in Middlesex, but it ceased to exist as a county in 1965. It stretched to Westminster many centuries ago, but London had finally swallowed it.

Our local borough may be getting bigger, but our horizons will narrow as Britain leaves the European Union, dark days for those of us who are Remainers. We shall all still be members of The Commonwealth and the English speaking world and The World, The Solar System and the Universe… as we used to write in our exercise books at school…

Do you know where you are, do you care where you are?

 

Silly Saturday – How to Cheat at Travel

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Visitors from all over the world come to visit this place, Windsor, Royal Berkshire. What to some is the holiday of a lifetime is a train trip of six minutes – if you happen to live near Slough railway station. You cannot get lost because there is only one stop, the train travels all day long between Slough and Windsor and Eaton Central, curving round to cross the River Thames. The elegant station was built so Queen Victoria could come by train to Windsor Castle.

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The station is busy with tourists and has plenty of restaurants and designer shops, so you will feel as if you are on holiday. Windsor Castle lies before you as you step outside, but perhaps you will be having so much fun on holiday in the station you won’t bother.

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But if you consider it is not a proper holiday unless you cross the sea, why not sail to Southampton.

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Take the ferry from the little town of Hythe in Hampshire. Check first on line to see if there are any ocean liners in dock, you will get a great view from the little ferry and it is much cheaper than going on a cruise.

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Hythe Pier, 1881 A strong, light iron pier, 2,100 feet in length…

The railway is the oldest continuously operating public pier train in the world. You can walk, cycle or take the train to the end of the pier and the ferry takes only ten minutes. Stroll out of the ferry terminal and you can explore parts of the old city wall or walk up the road into the centre of Southampton. If you want to shop or go to the cinema there is the Westquay centre with Ikea close by. There are large parks, museums, a university, the lovely Mayflower theatre and a concert hall.

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But if you want to feel as if you are abroad ( and you are not lucky enough to already be Swedish ) just stay all day in Ikea and stroll amongst the wonderful ‘rooms’ pretending you are visiting your Scandinavian friends. Buy all sorts of things you didn’t know you needed and have no idea what they are, but just like reading the interesting Swedish labels. When you tire, visit the restaurant which also has views over Southampon Water and the ocean liners. Soon it will be time to embark for the return trip across the waves.

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Enjoy more travels at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog/

Wonderful Winchester September Staycation – Part Two

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We visit Winchester Cathedral quite often; this time we had been told about the flower festival. After a late breakfast at Wetherspoons we sauntered down the road to the cathedral. It was a week day so we weren’t expecting to see a queue to get into the cathedral, but a flower festival by definition can only last a short time.

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It was worth the wait; it was a flower festival like no other I have ever seen and the rich colours cannot be conveyed in the pictures. What can be shown is the crowds. There were a lot of very English,’ excuse mes’ and ‘sorrys’ as we all tried to take photos or stay out of the way of other people taking them. Winchester is very light inside and gazing up you could forget you were not alone.

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The rich reds, blues and purples reflected this year’s theme which was inspired by the Winchester Bible.

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The Winchester Bible is the largest and finest of all surviving 12th-century English bibles. A single scribe wrote out its text in Latin, while artists worked its exquisitely illuminated capital letters. Their glowing colours, including gold and lapis lazuli, are as intense today as 800 years ago.

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http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/our-heritage/cathedral-treasures/the-winchester-bible-details/

 

We have never seen the Bible. On a previous visit, hoping to see it, we were informed with great satisfaction by an officious lady that the room where it was kept was closed that day! This time we could have queued to see one volume in a temporary exhibition, but made the decision to queue for the crypt.

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Down here, often standing in water, is Antony Gormley’s statue. Cyberspouse got a picture years ago when he pushed open a door that was ajar to see where it went; that time the statue was a complete surprise. This time the surprise was to see a candlelit path to the man with cupped hands.

http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/our-heritage/art-architecture/antony-gormley-sculpture/

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http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/

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On staycation you visit places for the day that  others may have travelled across the world to see. We chatted to a  couple who had come down from the North, but had the convenience of a son-in-law who worked at the cathedral and lived in the cathedral close, so they had free delightful accomodation and the opportunity to look round when everyone else had gone home.

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In my novel Three Ages of Man the stranger has never seen anything as old and solid as a cathedral and marvels as he lays his hands on the stone walls of Winchester Cathedral.

Star Sheep and Show Shires

The members of the New Forest Agricultural & Horticultural Association, formed nearly a hundred years ago, would be unlikely to recognise the New Forest Show of the twenty first century. The early shows cost two shillings and four pence to get in with competitions, one tent and livestock tethered up to a piece of rope between two oak trees.

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The modern show is on for three days and it would take three days to see all the events and exhibits; it can be quite exhausting being a visitor, let alone for the people working and taking part. On Tuesday, armed with our tickets from Stewarts Garden Centre giving us entry to their hospitality tent, we enjoyed free light refreshments all day, ample toilets with no queues and seats by one of the main rings; albeit looking into the blazing sun. As we sipped our first cup of tea riders were showing off their working hunters. The beautiful horses were examined for their looks then observed for their elegance and obedience as they trotted, cantered and galloped round the ring. The male judges wore bowler hats and for the lady judges a hat wider than their hips was the dress code, they all had very big hats!

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I wandered off at intervals to explore the show ground. Arts and crafts, holiday homes, furniture makers and funeral directors all had stands, alongside vintage farm machinery and ferret racing. In their quarters the ferrets had tiny hammocks to sleep in, more exclusive than the tent full of show rabbits.

I came across a dancing sheep display and learned a lot about sheep as well as having a good laugh; the finale was the shearing of a sheep, it’s not easy to be a stand up comedian and shear sheep at the same time.

Stewarts had a garden display, with beautiful wildflower beds; you could buy packets of seeds to make your own. There was a garden tent with exquisite flowers and a guess the weight of the cabbage. The Women’s Institute had a varied and delightful display to celebrate their centenary; the theme was a woman who has inspired you; each entry had to feature three different crafts, variety and imagination was in abundance.

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Back at the show ring the cows and sheep were having a winners’ parade, the highlight being a ram who managed to escape and run around making fools of the humans chasing him. Two beagle packs came on and children were invited into the ring to play with them, parents were reassured the beagles were longing to play with their darlings; we heard someone behind us laugh and comment … and rip them to pieces… but nothing untoward happened.

The highlights for me were the horses. The heavy horses’ musical ride is not seen anywhere else in the whole world, so we were told. Among the giants the Shires are my favourites with their feathered feet and elegant trot. But the best was yet to come, Atkinson Action Horses. If you watch any television dramas featuring horses, you will have seen some of their stars. We ladies love the scenes of our heroes galloping along cliff tops and across fields and these are real flesh and blood horses, not CGI; trained by experts, they enjoy working. The show display was action packed with gymnastics on Cossack saddles, bare back riding, jumping over fire and lying down and playing with their ‘best friends’. There was an hilarious commentary; riding and talking at the same time is very clever… and ladies, these chaps were fit, very fit. The girl riders were also amazingly agile, so I’m sure they had plenty of admirers.

http://actionhorses.co.uk/the-horses/

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Big and modern though it is, the show is still about animals, country life and competitions.

https://www.newforestshow.co.uk/

If you go down to The Woods today…

The first national park I knew well was Jellystone Park, home of Yogi Bear, one of my favourite television cartoons. He wasn’t the only bear in the woods; closer to home I spent my early years in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie-the-Pooh, the real teddy in AA Mine’s books, not the Disney animated version; I have never left that wood!  And there was the more sophisticated Rupert Bear who lived in pine woods much like the ones we visited on family outings.

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More exciting was our first and only holiday in the New Forest when I was eleven. As I loved ponies it was heaven; cattle, ponies and donkeys roaming around open land. There were also the dark woods carpeted with green velvet moss and the seaside, pebble beaches facing the Isle of Wight.

Read more about my pony mad years in last year’s blog

https://wordpress.com/post/tidalscribe.wordpress.com/481

 

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The New Forest is very old, William the Conqueror designated the area his Nova Foresta in 1079; forest then meant any area of land reserved exclusively for hunting. I do not think he would be pleased to see so many commoners enjoying themselves there today, it is still mostly crown land. The newest thing about the forest is its designation as a National Park in 2005.

People live and work in the forest, there are towns, campsites and all sorts of activities, but it is still a vast area of natural habitat with ponies and other livestock having right of way. The Verderers look after The Commoners rights to graze their animals. In the late summer and autumn, round-ups, or ‘drifts’ are held throughout the forest to treat any health problems the ponies and cattle may have, and to keep a count of the stock roaming the Open Forest. Mares and foals are marked during this time – foals are branded and the tails of mares are cut in distinctive patterns.

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When we first moved to nearby Bournemouth I read in the local paper that bears were to be reintroduced to the New Forest, that seemed an exciting idea until I read the date at the top of the page, April the First. But rewilding has been seriously suggested for remoter areas.

Britain once looked very different with vast natural forests, glades and wild spaces; wolves, bears and lynx roamed the land. The first Britons lived alongside woolly mammoths. Humans chopped down the trees to make space for farms and hunted the large animals to extinction, we have no natural predators to keep down deer numbers.

We took our recent visitors and their children for a visit to the New Forest, cream teas at a lovely cafe that used to be a railway station, paddling in the river, a cow being chased off the cricket field, more cows wandering in the car park. Close to nature, but not really part of the ancient forest. How amusing it would be to see keen photographers surprised by a bear coming into view, or families having their picnics stolen.

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You may still meet another ancient being in the forest, The Green Man…

There’s a New Forest theme at my website this month, read two dark short tales and enjoy a day out in Beachwriter’s Blog.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-six-fiction-focus

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As well as short stories, I enjoyed using the New Forest as one of the settings in my novel Three Ages of Man; the bewildered stranger has to find his way from Waterloo Station down to Brokenhurst and hike to a secluded cottage, there are many places to hide in the woods.

A Good Day Out

Where would you like to go for a day out? A popular choice in England is to visit a National Trust House. The National Trust is a charity which is over one hundred and twenty years old and owns and cares for 59 villages, 775 miles of coastline and vast tracts of hills and fields, all free for everyone to roam. Whatever your political leanings and thoughts on charities, I’m sure many would agree that these lands are safer with the National Trust than with governments, big businesses or greedy billionaires.

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Despite all their other conservation work, Big Houses are what people most often associate with the National Trust, donated by landowners come upon hard times, or just moving with the times. Whatever their ancestors would have thought, the common people are now free to roam their estates.  Not actually free; you have to pay to go in A Big House, unless you are one of the four million members; a few visits each year will make your membership worthwhile.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/fascinating-facts-and-figures

 

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One thing is never guaranteed on your day out, the weather, but that would never deter the average member.

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Once you have passed through the portal, you will enter a traffic free zone, except for the occasional buggy for those not up to striding round the whole estate.  Your children can run around on vast lawns, visit the adventure playground, do school holiday  activities or say hello to some pigs. Gardeners can admire walled vegetable gardens and beautiful borders, nature lovers can enjoy very old trees.

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If it pours with rain go and look around the house, read about the owners, peep at family photos and ask volunteers questions. There will probably be an interesting exhibition to look at. There will certainly be sweeping staircases to ascend and descend and narrow stairs to climb as you visit downstairs where the servants worked, or upstairs where they lived.

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No visit would be complete without tea and cake or a nice lunch. This will be in the stable block, the old kitchen or the orangery, always a restaurant with character. Then you can rummage through the second hand bookshop which could be tucked away in an outbuilding. The Shop is a must; tasteful and expensive souvenirs, tea towels to bone china. Don’t miss the books, there are bound to be real life stories about the lady of the  house or the black sheep of the family.

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Perhaps you have visited Durlswood, you may or may not find it in the National Trust guide book, but you can read the mysterious happenings of 2014 in the novella Durlswood, part of the Someone Somewhere collection.

 

Visiting Jane

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On Monday we paid a long overdue visit to Jane’s house; Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire. I had always imagined the little cottage under siege by coach loads of tourists, timed tickets and queues. Perhaps a Monday school day, arriving soon after opening time, made it a simple and civilised visit that Jane would appreciate.

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We parked in the free car park as instructed on the website; all was quiet, rain threatened, but never happened. The wet winter has left the gentle Hampshire countryside lush and green.

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Jane’s friends were cheerful and welcoming, the tulips and primroses in the pretty gardens were at their best. It was a bit early to call on the Misses Austen so we roamed the gardens, looked around the bakehouse, enjoyed a moving picture of family life and admired the beautiful quilt given to Jane for her anniversary last year. Everything was seemly, nothing tawdry presented to visitors.

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We felt immediately at home when we stepped inside the red brick cottage. The Austen ladies do not own this house, but I would never let on that I knew this. What does that matter when Jane feels so at home here, at peace to write while Cassandra and their aptly named friend Martha take care of the housekeeping. Left an orphan, with just a little money I gather Martha Lloyd became part of the family long ago, not in a position to be independent or find a husband.

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The Drawing Room is newly papered in a pretty yellow pattern, Chawton Vine. It was here we met a relative of Jane’s brother Edward, Jeremy Knight, who invited us up to the Great House, as Jane calls it, for lunch later. Who could have foreseen when the Austens sent their son to be adopted by the Knight family that he would be instrumental in making sure his sister’s novels were published.

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Upstairs the floorboards creaked and Jane will not have the creaky door fixed as it is a warning of someone coming so she may hide her writing. Mrs. Austen’s room is the largest and is newly decorated with a pretty ribbon trellis pattern wallpaper. The ladies have stitched a beautiful patchwork coverlet. Every window sill had a pretty cup with a posy of spring flowers, testament to how beautifully the ladies keep the cottage.

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We didn’t stay too long, Jane’s health has not been good and like all authors she probably can’t wait for visitors to leave so she can return to her writing.

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Back outside the rain still held off and we walked up the road in Jane’s footsteps to Chawton House, the merry sound of the local children at playtime ringing in our ears as we passed their school. With fields all around one can see why Jane and Cassandra enjoy two hour walks every afternoon. Up the long driveway to the house it was very quiet, we rang the doorbell and it was quickly answered; we were welcomed inside and shown into the cosy kitchen. We only had time for a scone and tea, as we had another appointment, but promised to come again when we return to see Jane.

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